The cultivation of skilled talent is important, but most of the individuals looking for work – and most of the job openings – are for low- and middle-skilled workers who aren’t getting the help they need.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Friday, January 24, 2020
Contact: Nancy Derringer, email@example.com, 734-548-0033; or Eric Lupher, firstname.lastname@example.org, 734-542-8001
What we found:
- Although much of Michigan’s workforce development efforts have been focused on training people for high-skilled jobs, the vast majority of job openings has been and will continue to be concentrated in low- and middle-skilled jobs.
- The working poor and those who have dropped out of the workforce are likely candidates to fill many of the job openings, but they confront several barriers.
- State workforce development programs generally do not assist these populations. Instead, they focus on the unemployed and those in poverty, as dictated by restrictions on federal funding, leaving those most prepared to contribute to the economy to fend for themselves.
In recent years, agencies that help the working poor have come to call this cohort “ALICE,” an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. It’s a clearer description of those who are gainfully employed, but have difficulty getting ahead in the workforce, for a number of reasons.
A variety of workforce development efforts in the state have concentrated on two cohorts of job-seekers – either educated, upwardly mobile and highly skilled and sought-after, or else the unemployed and impoverished.
However, most jobs opportunities in Michigan are for the ALICE population, low- and middle-skilled positions that might be taken by those who already are working. Many of these workers could be positioned to prosper with the right help, whether it be assistance with child care, better transportation, housing, health care or other key issues. A new report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan details this mismatch.
“This report came about in discussions with representatives from Citizens Bank and Fifth Third Bank, the underwriters of our work,” said Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council. “They reported that their business customers are having difficulty finding workers to fill jobs with little education or experience requirements.”
Finding qualified workers is the biggest issue facing Citizens Bank’s corporate clients, said Rick Hampson, state president of Citizens in Michigan. While highly skilled candidates can be lured by the message that Michigan’s economy is “back and thriving,” others may need more support.
A willing workforce, in need of help
Hiring managers and others report that the population that remains unemployed in today’s robust job market is less work-ready than those in similar straits during the Great Recession. Furthermore, candidates for the low-skill jobs currently available generally have few resources to help them overcome critical barriers to employment, such as child care and transportation.
Jason Paulateer, senior vice president at Fifth Third Bank, said this population needs more than a help-wanted ad to succeed. Rather, these workers often need more affordable housing, transportation, child care and other personalized attention.
“Some are not able to access help,” said Paulateer. “So we have to ask a deeper question: If state-supported help is not available, what is available? Online resources might help, but we need to make them aware of what’s out there.”
“While fewer individuals are in poverty,” the report states, “more are counted among the working poor and face significant barriers to employment. Existing workforce programs are not designed to account for these shifts in the market, a problem that must be addressed.”
The state already has a selection of programs designed to develop talent for employers, but most are funded with federal dollars that have specific requirements and limitations regarding who it can serve, what services can be provided, reporting metrics and more.
We note a variety of changes that might make this mismatch less troublesome, including expanding eligibility for some programs and better coordination between them.
“Our report creates several calls for action,” Mr. Lupher continued. “Employers, local government officials, and regional leaders must work to improve our transit options. We must work to increase the availability and affordability of quality child care. Affordable housing remains an issue. And at the state level, we must adapt the workforce development programs, sometimes by working to adapt federal programs, to better meet the needs of this population.”